Todd Haley said he didn't spread the Cardinal offense out earlier in the game because his tackles were overmatched. He said he wanted to run against your nickel. I agreed with him because some teams had success running against your nickel. What was the key in your nickel stopping their run?
Well, you could look at our run numbers and you can, I think, safely say that nobody could consistently run the ball against these guys. Whether it was nickel or base -- and it was always ridiculous when we were in base defense. A lot of nickel situations teams on second-and-22 will maybe run the ball for seven or eight yards. Well, do you want that? No, but I still like third-and-14, so I think that's a win for us. Yet, if you gave up eight yards a rush for any significant amount of time, your rush statistics would be last in the league. So you generally expect to give up a little more against the run in those types of situations than you would with your base defense. I don't think that anybody went into a game this year saying, ‘Oh, we're going to pound them running the ball.' I think what Todd's saying is they wanted to be able to run it enough to keep their offense in balance. You have to have some success running or it's going to be very difficult throwing the ball, and I think that's probably what he was saying, although I don't know that for sure. I thought that no one should, in my opinion, second-guess what they did, because I thought all along that it would be a one or two-play type of game, which is exactly what it was.
When we played them out there two years ago, it came down to a play here and a play there. They're a very good football team playing its best football, and the National Football League usually comes down to one or two plays in the fourth quarter. That's exactly where that game came down to. They certainly did a great job competing, and up until the last two minutes had the lead, and you might say till the last 35 seconds, so it's hard for me to find fault with an offensive system that did that against the No. 1 defense in the league, so I don't think they should have to defend anything about what they did. Our guys just made the one extra play when it mattered the most, which was pretty much the calling card of our team this year. And if you think back, Ben probably did that in six games with the last possession or in the last quarter came up with the play that we needed. Santonio was involved in it a lot of times. Hines would be in there, too, but somebody would come up with it in those situations. We played a lot of games like that, and in the end I think it was a real plus for our team coming down the wire in those playoff games. Certainly our game with Baltimore here was in doubt to the last seconds when Troy made the interception. But we played over half of our games like that. They used the word battle-tested, well our guys were toughened in those situations and they came through. That's the story of the game, along with James's interception at the end of the half, which is something that gave us a position that we could allow a play like Fitzgerald made and still come out winning. If we don't get that seven points there, the one play would've maybe put Ben too far behind to make up the differential. As it was, that just put them three points ahead when our guys came off the field.
Of course, our guys were a little bit down when they gave up the lead in the fourth quarter, which is something you never want to do, but I said ‘Get yourself collected and ready because we're going to be back out there. This game is not over.' I really thought the game was going into overtime because I thought that Ben would get us down there for a field goal. I hoped he would get us down there for a touchdown, but I felt pretty strongly that he would get us a field goal. I've seen it happen all year and our guys had to be ready to go out there and get the doggone ball if we lost the toss. The only time that I was concerned honestly was when we had 1st and 20 on our own 12. Well, once the ball got down there, either we were going to be defending a four-point lead or getting ready for overtime. So we knew then for sure, but I felt, from the time we were getting off the field and talked to my guys, that we were getting ready to get out there and win the ball game because there was a lot of football left to play.
Wasn't Ben's drive comparable to the Joe Montana drive you watched from the Bengals' sideline?
Don't think the irony of that was lost on me, believe me. I waited because Coach Whisenhunt and I are good friends, and I did not want to talk to him for a while, but when I did talk to Coach Whisenhunt I did tell him ‘I know how you feel because I've been involved in one that we lost exactly the same way, and the sun will still come up, and you'll still be coaching football.' It's just a tough pill to swallow. But I knew exactly how he felt, and it was almost eerily similar to that game. We in fact had them in a 2nd-and-18 situation, so there were similarities. They say things balance out if you stay around long enough. Well I had to stay around pretty long. I'm glad it came back.
Your guys had Jerry Rice covered but knocked each other down. That was similar to the corner slipping and falling against Santonio.
That's exactly a very similar situation. I mean, the whole thing had an eerie context to it. Probably it's a little ironic that you would remember that game yourself, but I thought of it instantly.
As it was happening?
After the game. During the game you're not thinking about anything but what's going on in front of you. When I thought back and how we took the ball down and they took the lead with us, our guy broke a kickoff return and got us three points up, exactly what it got them. I mean, there really were some similarities.
I just thought there was a real good chance that our guys were going to get a field goal, and all I was thinking about was making sure that that play was gone from our guys' psyche and that they were ready to play football, because I felt pretty sure we were going to be playing more football, and it turned out we were. We got to end the game with Woodley's great play. That was a great sack and it was recovered by Brett. It was a three-man rush so they had to keep going on that thing and the coverage was really good. Kurt actually held the ball quite a while on that and my whole objective on that whole drive was to keep him from where he could reach the end zone, because that's the place where Fitzgerald excels the most, jumping up and you just didn't want him having any shot at the ball in your end zone, so it was a huge sack by Woodley and a great recovery by Brett.
Troy told me that all he was thinking about on the Cardinals' last play was not ending up in a highlight film with Fitzgerald for the rest of eternity.
He told me exactly the same words. I was not going to bring him into it, but since he told you I can say that on the bus the next day going to the airport he said, ‘Coach, on that last play, Fitzgerald was right here and Boldin was right here,' he said, ‘I knew the ball had to be thrown right there, and that he didn't want to be on ESPN for the next 20 years with one of them jumping up and catching the ball.' As soon as he said that to me, I said to myself, ‘That tells me that they wouldn't have caught it.' Because if he was motivated in that respect, he'd have found some way, the way Troy usually finds some way, of getting the dadgummed ball, of making sure either he got the ball or they didn't. But it's interesting what shoots through your mind while a play is unfolding. I think Troy would've won that one because he had pretty strong motivation right there.
Read Part 3 on Monday morning here at SteelCityInsider.com.